Community Youth Programs Support Children’s Unique Needs


Extracurricular activities, whether sports, the arts, faith-based activities or cultural clubs, can have profound effects on children, particularly as they transition from childhood to adolescence. 

Children who participate in group activities tend to have higher self-esteem and connection to their peers, as well as lower levels of anxiety and depression. 

Wheat Ridge hosts a plethora of youth-focused activities, ranging from Sweet Ridge Studio’s art classes to the Junior Granger program to Rooted in Fun’s recreation programs. These programs aim to give youth a place to connect with their peers and the community, while expressing and enjoying themselves outside of school. 

During activities like the Wheat Ridge’s summer camp, kids get to continue interacting with other people their age, even while school isn’t in session, and parents get the added benefit of continued child care during the summer. 

This kind of extended program can foster a lot of growth in children in a short time span and make the rec center feel like a comfortable homebase for families. On multiple occasions, Rooted in Fun has had former campers return to work at the rec center, because of their positive experience there. 

“As cliche or maybe cheesy as it sounds, we really are trying to foster that community,” said Cheyenne Greer, youth and therapeutic program coordinator. “Being that place where families feel like this is home, like ‘I’m going to put my kids in these programs and they love it, we love it. They feel safe, we feel safe.’”

This can be especially important coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many kids were isolated from their peers, Greer added. 

For Melinda Valentini, creating a third space — a space outside of home or work and school — in Wheat Ridge was a priority, which is how Sweet Ridge came to be. Now, with a more permanent space in the Wheat Ridge United Methodist Church, they are expanding their programs to include teen programs, mobile art carts in local schools and workshops in the newly-opened Clear Creek Makerspace. 

Valentini was committed to making the arts accessible to every demographic because of how creative pursuits can contribute to self-identity and are an essential outlet. 

“Art heals people, I believe wholeheartedly that we’re all inherently creative human beings, and we express that in a variety of ways,” Valentini said. “When you have a place to affirm your existence you’re healing and you’re fulfilling your life’s purpose.” 

For Addie and Ash, two 13-year-olds who have been going to Sweet Ridge for several years, the art classes allowed them to connect with other kids in the community in a more relaxed setting than school offers, and build a connection with them over time. 

Additionally, Sweet Ridge is different from school art classes because it has no set curriculum or requirements, rather, it lets kid’s creativity run wild. Sweet Ridge introduces them to new media too, which challenges them while encouraging that it is okay to fail, Valentini said. 

“All the teachers are really nice, and they’re very good at actually making you understand what you’re doing,” Ash said. “They’re very helpful when you need to fix something and with pretty much anything you need.” 

But, supporting kids in their education and academic endeavors is also important to Wheat Ridge organizations like the Wheat Ridge Optimists Club and The Grange. 

Through educational activities, Junior Grangers focus on community improvement, personal growth and family connection, said Grange President Dominic Breton. The intent is to foster the next generation of leaders and empower kids to know they can make a difference. 

“Developing tomorrow’s leaders is really important, getting youth to learn they’re very helpful in setting up things and getting their point of views on what’s needed and what they want to see done,” Breton added. 

The Optimists Club similarly gets youth involved in the community through service projects, like fundraising for families around the holidays, food drives and honoring first responders and veterans. 

Some of these efforts also fund scholarship programs for Wheat Ridge highschoolers, helping students apply or attend college or participate in academic development activities like STEM programs. The Optimists Club hopes that these programs help instill a sense of giving and service in the next generation, said President Jack Chism. 

“When these kids graduate, they graduate with an interest in helping people beyond themselves later on in life,” Chism said. “If they benefit from one of the scholarships, then we want them to pay that back and do something beneficial for the community and be proud of that.” 

For a community like Wheat Ridge with an older population and many families calling the city home, nurturing youth with consistent and accessible support can help instill community values and pass down a legacy of engagement and confidence. 

“If it’s all 70-year-olds, like it was when I first joined [the Grange], it’s great when you have new people stepping up and sharing ideas and input,” Breton said. 

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